Monthly Archives: July 2020

God in a Box

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 13:54-58

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”

The people in Jesus’ hometown had him figured out, or so they thought. Elders saw him grow up from childhood; peers knew him as the carpenter’s son. Yeshua was an ordinary young man with no rabbinic training. His parents and relatives were also ordinary townspeople. What was Yeshua doing in the synagogue—teaching his neighbors and behaving like a man of authority? The spectacle was “offensive” and provoked disgust.

Jesus’ hometown suffered from spiritual cataracts. They assumed that their small world and the people around them had no more depth than what they had observed day after day, year after year. Their affliction was not peculiar to them. Overfamiliarity afflicts all of us and obstructs vision. 

If we open the eyes of our heart, every person we encounter, whether at home or in the streets, shines with the splendor of the Triune image stamped within. If we look in our yard, the dullest rocks are as dazzling as gold; both proceed from the same breath. (Mineral value is also not intrinsic but assigned.) The hobo and the king have the same “weight of glory” in the divine scales.

The Son of God took the risk of being mistaken for worthless dust when he assumed that dust as his earthly form. Only once did he allow mortal eyes to behold the blazing glory of his hidden person—at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Earth was not to be won over without an awakening from within, with a minimal show of power and might. 

Yet miracles and wonders were not lacking in the divine courtship. Compassion drew out his healing power even to those who sought him in hiding (e.g., the woman who touched his tassel). 

“According to your faith let it be done to you,” Jesus said to the blind men in another town (Matthew 9:29). Here in his own town, the brook of faith was dry and parched, dammed by familiarity and contempt. 

And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.


The Net

Chinese painting of the Nativity of Christ. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Matthew 13:47-53

The net in the Gospel parable caught fish of every kind, just like the net after Jesus’ resurrection:

“So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21:11).

In Christ the Eternal Tao, a book exploring the insights of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) and Christianity, Hieromonk Damascene wrote eighty-one poems mirroring the eighty-one poems of the Tao Te Ching. Each poem reveals the compenetrating insights of Christian revelation and the pre-Christian philosophy of Lao Tzu. Poem 22 speaks of the post-Resurrection net and shows the marvelous power of grace to transform persons.

Chapter 22 of Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene

He was condemned as a friend of harlots
And the harlots became virgins.
He was condemned as a friend of thieves
And the thieves restored their stolen goods fourfold.
He was condemned as a friend of poor fishermen
And the poor fishermen caught the universe in their nets.
He was condemned as a friend of outcasts
And the outcasts inherited His Kingdom.

He was condemned, and they were created anew.
He wept over what His creation had made of itself,
And by His tears was it remade,
Restored to its true nature, its primitive origin.
The first creation was of the dust of the ground;
The second, of Water and Spirit.

Lao Tzu had a profound intuition of the merciful and transforming character of the Tao (the word used to translate Logos in St. John’s Prologue). Tao manifested in the world is called Teh, or Grace—the Light seen by Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Lao Tzu intuited the nurturing character of the Absolute when he described it as “the mother of the ten thousand things,” meaning everything that exists (Tao Te Ching, chapter 1). 

The parable of the net warns us to be watchful that we may be caught in the mesh of grace. The net that “caught the universe” motivates us to pray that none may slip through.

“Vast is Heaven’s net;
Sparse-meshed it is, and yet
Nothing can slip through it.”

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translated by John C. H. Wu)

Lao Tzu joins Plato, Aristotle and other pre-Christian philosophers who were led by the Holy Spirit to glimpse the mystery behind visible phenomena by meditation and insight. They belong to the great journey of humanity in its return to the Trinity. 


What is harmony? (Part 2)

“Is the Trinity like a musical harmony? (part 2)”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

In a tonal song, all of the tones relate to a single key. Relativity of tones is at the heart of tonal music. Relativity is built into finitude itself, as form and limit give rise to systems of interrelatedness. Congruence of interrelated elements is perceived as harmony. 

The Trinity, however, infinitely transcends form, limit, and systems of relations. Systems revolve around a single principle which organizes disparate elements into a coherent whole. The elements interrelate as parts of a whole. But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not parts; each person is God indivisibly. The Trinity has no “home key.” Persons, by virtue of their absolute diversity, cannot be systematized. Nothing “holds them together” as parts. Persons are “wholes” for lack of a better term; “part” and “whole” fall short as concepts as they are relative and give rise to one another.

Absolute identity (monad) and absolute diversity (triad) are simultaneous, neither having priority over the other—an indivisible circumincession of persons (“wholes”) without parts. The Three One transcends interdependence, interrelations, and relativity, all of which belong to the spatiotemporal domain of parts outside parts.

Since harmony is such a beloved concept, however, we may perhaps say that Trinitarian Love is an ineffable harmony beyond harmony

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. How about artists too? Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.

Almighty ever-living God, your Son was welcomed in Martha’s house as a guest, grant, we pray, that through her intercession, serving Christ faithfully in our brothers and sisters, we may be received by you in the halls of heaven.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Struggles of Jeremiah

Let my eyes stream with tears

day and night, without rest,

Over the great destruction which overwhelms

the virgin daughter of my people,

over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field,

look! those slain by the sword;

If I enter the city,

look! those consumed by hunger.

Even the prophet and the priest

forage in a land they know not.

Today’s first reading from our lectionary is a classic picture from the Prophet Jeremiah of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 598 BC. The dead are still waiting to be buried, people starving for food, prophets and priests wandering about bewildered by what’s happened. 

Just as important as the description of the devastated city of Jerusalem is the reaction of the prophet describing it. He’s no distant onlooker, he’s there, part of it all, and his eyes are filled with tears, day and night.

That’s Jeremiah. It’s his city and his people that have been struck “a blow that cannot be healed.” Instead of the Babylonians or the Judean leaders whom he had warned, Jeremiah addresses God. “You alone have done all these things.”

Does Jeremiah have something to say about our situation today?

“Nowhere else in the Old Testament does the eternal, invisible God become so involved in human experience and communicate within it as in the person of Jeremiah,” Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, writes in his commentary on Jeremiah in the Catholic Study Bible.

Jeremiah  struggles with God. He “paradoxically combines exceptional obedience to God with vigorous argumentation against God, he struggles with doubt and anger, and at times succumbs to them, only to be purified and transformed (Jer. 9:1; 15:19).”

There are no quick answers for him. “The biblical message comes  not simply as a finished polished discourse, but as an intuition, or to use Jeremiah’s words , as a “fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones” ( Jeremiah 20:10). Jeremiah frequently provides us with a message on its way to becoming the final word of God, struggling to come to birth and seeming lost in the dark birth canal. “(Jeremiah, 20:17) (Reading Guide 304-305)

As we look at our own world in the grip of a devastating global pandemic, what about Jeremiah’s words to God: “You alone have done all these things.” 

I think we struggle like him. 

The Parable of the Weeds

Parable of the Tares. From Christ’s Object Lessons by Ellen Gould Harmon White, page 73. 

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 13:36-43

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom. The weeds are the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

If we look at the parable of the weeds through a metaphysical lens, the Sower and the field are both the Son of Man, as the entire cosmos was assumed by the Person of the Word in the Incarnation. Both disciples and dissenters, saints and sinners find their origin in Adam. Seeds and weeds alike grow freely in the soil (Body) assumed by Christ. 

There is no equal and opposite existence to rival the Uncreated Son. A rebel spirit exists through the Son but has freely chosen to withdraw its “I” from communion and sever its will from the Father. How free will can be both created and undetermined is an unfathomable mystery.

The rejection of divine love for the allure of shining alone ends in the furnace of ego-isolation, unable to glory in the union and communion of the heterogeneous splendor of unique and unrepeatable persons. Glory is neither self-centered nor other-centered, but One Many beyond logical, linguistic, musical, or geometrical “co-ordination.”

Weeds burn alone in the fire of their pride. “Hell” has no separate existence.

Matthew allegorized the parable for a primitive Church struggling with the newness of Christ in the midst of an unyielding Jewish tradition. They sought explanations for why some accepted and others rejected Christ. Matthew applied an almost one-to-one correspondence between symbols and their referents in his desire for clarity. Based on linguistic analysis, Joachim Jeremias wrote: “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the interpretation of the parable of the Tares is the work of Matthew himself.”1

Parables are not designed to provide clear-cut perspicacity. Lucidity concerning hidden mysteries is neither possible nor necessary for the journey. We can draw from parables of the kingdom that it is something worth searching for with all one’s heart, and that it is worth detaching from all earthly goods in order to attain it. What exactly that pearl of great price is, concepts cannot capture, but parables tell us it is worth more than our life, as demonstrated by Christ on the Cross.

As the Kingdom grows from a tiny seed and with it Christian consciousness, the mystery unfolds over the centuries as spirituality develops in every corner of the world. Saints envision the unseen world in a multitude of ways. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” in Matthew, for example, was conceived as the torment of divine love in the 7th century vision of St. Isaac the Syrian:

“Those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret.”2

St. Isaac’s theology envelops our prayer and action in the merciful love of the Trinity. Instead of speculating on who the wheat and weeds are (an impossibility), we pray and work to bring all into the harvest (leaving judgment to God). Evil viewed in the light of divine love enkindles pity rather than condemnation. 

St. Isaac’s vision crucifies the heart and reflects the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Speculative and practical theology meet as one in the Heart of the Trinity.


1 Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972, pp. 84-85, referenced by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series,Volume 1, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 206.

2 Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, 2nd ed., Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011, 141-142.

Bring a Mary Garden Home

We have a beautiful Mary Garden in our gardens here in Queens, New York, but I also have one in my room, my personal Mary Garden, near the window, about 8 feet away from my bed. It’s there in the morning when I get up and in the evening when I go to sleep.

There’s a small picture of Mary and the Child in it, “Salus Populi Romani”, “Rescuer of the Roman People”. The original 6th century icon is in the church of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Pope Gregory the Great carried it through the city during a plague in the 6th century and Pope Francis brought it to the Vatican recently to pray for an end to the Covid19 Pandemic. Popes and people through the centuries sought Mary’s intercession and so should we. 

I have succulents in my Mary Garden. No flowers there, reflecting the winter we’re in, though it’s now summer.. Succulents can have a wild confused growth, you don’t know where some of them are going. Again, they reflect our times. Still, they’re living, they’re green. They hang on to life, and so should we. 

Walking in our garden recently I noticed some tiny rocks of all colors, disguised in the dirt till you wash them. Our garden is on a terminal moraine where the Laurentine Glacier stopped 20,000 years ago leaving tons of rocks here from elsewhere. I put some of those tiny rocks in my Mary Garden. 

We have to take a long view of things today. God is the God of Deep Time, the Creator of heaven and earth. How can we take for granted the air we breathe, life-giving water, the rocks, the humble soil, all the connected things of our universe? Maybe the pandemic is reminding us how fragile life is, how dear it is.

A wind the other day shook the trees in our garden till they gave up their seeds, scattering them on the ground.  I took one of the pine cones and an acorn and put them in my Mary Garden. Seeds are signs of hope. Like hope, they’re hidden. We have to wait for them to grow. They can be unappreciated treasures. 

We’re reading the Prophet Jeremiah in our lectionary these days. He scolds the people, especially their rulers, for letting the garden lands God gave them go to waste. Then, the same prophet promises his people in exile that God will bring them back, “like watered gardens, never again shall they languish.”

Mary holds her Child, the Word through whom all things were made, Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Mary Garden, Passionists, Immaculate Conception Monastery